Editor’s note: This is a revised version of a previous post from 2015.
No one taught me how to grieve. As a child, I don’t recall anyone ever talking to me about it. During college, it wasn’t a part of my discipleship program. I don’t remember a single talk or Bible study on the subject.
But I wouldn’t have been interested if someone had offered to teach me. My unstated goal was to avoid loss, and then grief would be unnecessary. Somewhere along the line I came to believe that if I were Christian enough – then I wouldn’t feel losses. Or if I lived right – then I would avoid loss.
That is a ludicrous statement, of course. That’s why I left it unstated. But I pursued the belief anyway. I saw the Christian life as a way to be ‘above’ sadness (or really any ill-feeling). I viewed all negative feelings as either unnecessary or possibly sinful. Some negative emotions seemed obviously sinful (bitterness, jealousy), some could go either way (anger, desire for justice) and some were in the middle (hurt, grief). But they all had one thing in common – they all feel bad. Therefore they were to be avoided.
I thought that this way of thinking would save me pain and grief, but it hasn’t. My ‘unstated’ philosophy has been a problem for me. For despite my attempts to avoid loss, it still found me. And I didn’t have a way to deal with the hurt.
- When I was socially exiled in middle school – how could I grow honest without hurting?
- When I was betrayed in college – how could I be true to my own heart without suffering?
- When I lost a stillborn child – how could I remember him without feeling empty arms?
- When I see an aging face in the mirror – how can I accept myself without feeling loss?
Look at the underlined phrases in the sentences above. If I won’t tell the truth about a fallen world (i.e. If I won’t grieve) then I forfeit the ability to be honest. I lose even more. I lose my own heart, my attachment to my children, and the acceptance of myself. In short – if I won’t grieve fully – then I won’t live fully.
My avoidance of grief meant that I avoided my life. The cost to ‘not feel’ is very high. You lose your experience. Eventually, as you become more detached, you lose the ability to experience the bittersweet and then the sweet. You are desperately trying to gain your life, but you end up losing it.
I somehow got Christianity backwards. I thought the resurrection meant that I don’t have to face death. But Christianity is exactly the opposite. The resurrection means that I can face death. I tried to make Christianity into a method to avoid pain. But Christianity is the opposite – a redemptive way to experience pain. The symbol of our faith has always been the cross. I suppose it should have tipped me off about what following Christ is about. Christianity isn’t a way to live so that you don’t die. Christianity is a way to die so that you might fully live. First the cross, then the crown.
Christianity turns things upside down. Instead of full (and futile) flight from the reality of loss and death – we face it (and call it what it is) because we believe in the resurrection. Because of the resurrection, we can have the courage to tell the truth about loss and death.
We can grieve, not because we don’t have hope, but because we do.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.